tv The American Spirit CSPAN September 4, 2017 8:30am-9:29am EDT
republican from california. thank you. >> guest: thank you. >> you've been watching "the communicators" on c-span, looking at new technology at ces on the hill in washington d.c. if you'd like to see some of our previous programs, go to c-span.org. >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. >> and welcome to the washington, d.c. convention center and the 17th annual national book festival. booktv on c-span2 will be live with authors all day. you'll hear from former secretary of state condoleezza rice, pulitzer prize-winning
columnist tom friedman, best selling authors j.d. vance and michael lewis, astronaut leland melvin and many others. now, for a complete schedule visit booktv.org, and you can follow us on social media for updates and behind-the-scenes videos. we're on facebook,visit facebook.com/booktv, @booktv is our twitter handle and on instagram, we're at book underscore tv.. this year's festival kicks off with librarian of congress carla haden making opening remarks, and she'll be followed immediately by author and historian david mccullough. you're watching booktv on c-span2 live from the 17th annual national book festival. [applause]
>> wow, i was so worried -- [cheers and applause] i was so worried. it was raining -- [laughter] and i thought, book lovers are going to want to stay in bed concern. [laughter] and read. [laughter] well, here you are. thank you and good morning. [applause] >> and welcome to the 2017 national book festival. i'm carla hayden, and i'm so honored to be able to say i'm the 14th librarian of congress. [applause] and as you can see, i'm pretty
excited to open this event, our 17th consecutive celebration of books and reading. and it is wonderful to see a full house here in our largest presentation space. not only will we have a full house here at the convention center, but we also have millions and millions of people joining us live on facebook. so thanks to everyone wherever you are for joining us. [applause] now, we have a fantastic lineup of main stage authors this year. and what better way to kick off the festival than with one of our nation's most beloved historians, mr. david mccullough. [cheers and applause] mr. mccullough is here for his sixth national book festival
appearance, and we hope you will continue to make this a habit. [laughter] he will be follow by diana galbadon. [applause] she is the author of the wildly successful outlander series -- [cheers and applause] and she's here for her fourth festival. and next is j.d. vance. [applause] whose "hillbilly elegy" has struck a chord in the national conversation about poverty in america. thomas friedman barely needs an introduction --in [applause] he is an internationally recognized writer on the middle east, foreign affairs and the environment. and michael lewis is famous -- [applause] for his books about finance such
as "liar's poker," but he is equally famous for his books about topics as diverse as h adoption and baseball. the screen adaptations of "the blind side" and moneyball, among others, have been enormously popular. and ms. condoleeza rice -- [applause] was the secretary of state for the united states, and she is now on the faculty of stanford or university traveling from california to be here with us today. and finally, mr. david baldacci is back -- [applause] for a record-setting eighth time at the national book festival. his thrillers and books for young people have been read by millions.ope i am very pleased to be able to turn this over to the person who
has helped make this festival possible and is our co-chair, mr. david rubenstein. [applause] a true believer in the power of literacy and reading and what it can do for all of us. it would not have been possible to have this event without you. thank you. [applause] so please welcome to the stage mr. david mccullough and mr. david rubenstein. [applause]
[inaudible conversations] >> david, you were at our first national book festival, the very first one. how many people were at the first one, anybody? how many have been to every one? how many this is their first time? okay. how many people like the price of admission? [laughter] the pri [applause] >> okay. so we're very honored to have david mccullough, and let me just give you a brief background of david. david is a native of pittsburgh, grew up --
[applause] okay. grew up as one of four boys in a family where his father had a small electrical supply company. not quite general electric, but very impressive, you said. [laughter] david went to yale where he did quite well, graduated in 1955. he then went to new york, did not go back to pittsburgh despite his parents' interest in his doing so. went to new york, joined "sports illustrated"ded which was then n novice, new publication and, ultimately, came to work in washington as usia. and while at the usia, got interested in something that he was interested in from his time in pittsburgh, the johnstown flood, and then wrote his first book about the johnstown flood which was a bestseller. that was his first book. he's now written, with book we're going to talk about today "the american spirit," he's now
written 11 books. he's now working on his 12th book which we'll talk about shortly. every single one of his books is still in print, which is very unusual. his first book is now almost 50 years old, so -- [applause] david has won the pulitzer prize twice for his books on harry truman and john adams. he's won the national book prize twice. he has been given the presidential medal of freedom by president clinton. he's been asked to speak to a joint session of congress and given virtually every honor a citizen can get. he's been given 55 honorary degrees, which must be a record. [laughter] so that's very impressive. but even more impressive is he has five children, 19 grandchildren and the love of his life, rosalee, is here, his wife of 63 years. where's rosalee?
stand up. [applause] okay. so did you ever think when you were growing up many pittsburgh that you would one day become the most famous chronicler of american history? >> of course. >> you did. [laughter] >> no, i never imagined such a thing. >> what was your ambition as aa young boy in pittsburgh? what did you want to do? >> i wanted to get good grades in school but not to spend too much of my time worrying about that. and then i got interested in girls, and that took up a lot oe my thought -- [laughter] and preparations. and i, once i got to college i knew that i either wanted to be an a artist or a writer or an architect or an actor. [laughter] but i couldn't make up my mind. so when i finished college, i
thought i know what i'll do, i'll go to new york and see what happens. [laughter] so i went to new and a -- to new york and a lot happened. >> did your family say go to new york or to come back to pittsburgh? >> oh, no. my father would call me after my second or third book had been published, he'd say now it's time to the come back to pittsburgh and yet a real job. [laughter] he never understood. but i'd go back to pittsburgh all the time, and i'm very grateful i grew up when i did then, at that time in that city. >> so -- >> and it was, it was a lesson in history in itself.as it was a stimulation for the arts and literature. the principal of my school, public school, was one of the founders of the first pbs station in america, carolyn d. patterson. [applause] and kdka was the first radio
station in america, and i was invited to do a little voiceover for kdka when i was still in high school. so that interested me too. >> so you went to "sportsts illustrated." now, that isn't american history exactly. very nice publication, but what did you work on there? >> well, i was the -- worked in the circulation/promotion department. and we had these test mailings that they called them where they would write four or five different letters to people asking them to take an interest in this new magazine. and i was told -- i asked if i could contribute a competitor in the test, and i was told, yes, but you have to do it on your own time. don't waste office time doing this. attend to your job. i was a trainee. so i wrote the letter and submitted it, and they decided
to use it,ing and it won the test. and from that point on, i was looking good. [laughter] but a wonderful thing about it, "sports illustrated" was brandnd new, and nobody really knew exactly where it was going or how to make it go, and it was a very exciting time. and the whole spirit of the city then was amazing. i went to work more $5,000 -- for $5,000 a year. they allowed me an extra $10 a week because i was married.weekc [laughter] so the stereotype for women was not just in salaries, it was expressed in other ways too. but i also found right away how many wonderful women there were working there, and later when i came to washington, i found some of the best people i'd ever worked with in my life were the women at the u.s. information agency. t what happened was i -- when
kennedy ran, i thought this is really exciting. he was going to make a difference. he was going to give us all a chance to take part. and when he gave his magnificena inaugural address and said ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country, i took that entirely to heart, and i quit my job. i knew no one in the kennedy crowd, i knew no one in the government here. i came down and went door to door looking for some place in the federal government where my training and my education would be appropriate and wound up -- luck would have it, and luck is a big factor not just in our lives, but in history that's not sufficiently paid attention to. but as luck would have it, i wound up working at the usia when kennedy had appointed edward r. murrow to be the director. so it was a very exciting time. and it stayed an exciting time
for the three years until thed president was killed. but during that time, i happened to be in the library of congress doing some research for some articles we were going to include in the magazine i wasfoo editing, and i chanced upon this big table at the library in the princeton photographs division of photographs taken at johnstown to right after the famous disastrous flood of 1889. and i'd heard about the flood all my life, but i really knew nothing about it. and i looked at those photographs and saw the looked devastating destruction and couldn't believe my eyes. and i thought, what happened? so i took a book out of the library which was okay, but the author didn't really understand the geography of western pennsylvania which i did understand. so i took another book out of the library, and it was a pot boiler written at the time full
of inaccuracies and so forth. while i was in college, i had the good fortune to cross paths with thorton wilder, the great playwright and novelist. and he was asked at one point why do you write the plays you do, the subjects you choose, why do you write the novels you do and the subjects you choose. he said i imagine a story that i'd like to be able to read, and if i find nobody's written it so i can see it on stage or read it in a book, i write it myself is i can read it in a book or see it performed on stage. [laughter] and i thought, why don't you try and write the book you wish you could read about the johnstown flood. and as soon as i started work on that book -- here at the library of congress primarily -- i knew this was what i wanted to do for the rest of my life. >> so did you quit your job at usia?
>> i did not. when kennedy was killed, i was a asked to come back to new york to work at american heritage, the wonderful american history magazine, which was then published with hard covers and no advertising. bruce catton was the editor. it was an exciting, marvelous, adventurous time. and i went there, worked there for six years. and i wrote the johnstown flood at nights and on weekends for three years, carrying on my job as usual. and after i had written the book and then after i got the idea for the next book on building the brooklyn bridge, i thought i've got to quit and see if i can do it full time. and because i was married, am married to a very brave, wonderful woman -- [applause] she said if that's what you want to do, we'll do it.
we had no outside income. all we had was an advance on the new book. and after my johnstown book wasd published, several other publishers came to me, and one wanted me to do the chicago fire, and the other wanted me tc do the san francisco earthquake. [laughter] so i was hardly 30 years old, and i was already being typecas as bad news mccullough. [laughter] and i didn't like that.. i wanted a symbol of affirmation, a symbol of positive affirmation. and i must say it took me a while to come up with the idea. people say where do you get your ideas.peop i get them from all over the place. and i was having lunch, excuse me, with two friends. one was a science writer, the other an engineer. they started talking about all that the builders of the brooklyn bridge didn't know what
they were in for when they first set out to do it.. and i thought, there's my book, there's my subject. and i came out of that lunch, it was down on the lower east side. i went straight to the new york public library, straight up those stairs, the marble stairs to the card catalog are, the old card catalog days. [laughter] and pulled out the drawer, and there were over 50 cards on the subject of the brooklyn bridge but not one describing a book of the kind i intended already to write. and i knew this was it. and so it was on the basis of that idea and the willingness of my publisher, simon & schuster, to go behind me and give me an advance that i was able to stop working, excuse me, full time. and i've never changed publishers. simonsimon & schuster has publid all my books. and i always figured if i was
loyal and faithful to them, they would be to me, and they certainly have been. >> one wife and one publisher for 60 years. [applause] you might describe as you have described elsewhere your style of writing, because it's a little unique in the sense that your wife is involved in the process of helping you with the writing. can you describe how you do that? >> well, i've been confessing to this truth more lately than before. [laughter] but i don't consider myself an historian. i have no degree in history, i have no ph.d., i didn't major in history. i majored in english. i only took the history courses that were required. and i've always believed that one ought to write for the ear as well as the eye. all the greats did it, dick ins, all the others -- dickens, all the others. because when you hear what you've written, you begin to
hear words you're using too often, you begin to hear sentence structures that become repetitious. and you hear when you're starting to be boring. [laughter] and i had two or three wonderful writers help me along the way. conrad richter, the great novelist whose work is brilliant beyond imagining still, paul horrigan, wonderful writer. and charlton ogburn, i don't know if any of you know his work. brilliant man, wonderful writer and naturalist. and they helped me understand you have to cut back. you have to write and rewrite. i'm not a writer, i'm a re-writer. and all the best of them have been that way. rosalee reads everything that i write to me aloud, and she sometimes reads a chapter three or four times because i'm rewriting it three or four times.
and one -- we were working on my book about theodore roosevelt -- may i tell this story?tell the [laughter] we were in the next to last chapter, i think, and she was reading aloud, and she said there's something wrong with that sentence. i said, well, read it again. she read it again. i said, no, there's nothing wrong with that sentence. she said, yes, there is. i said, give me that. [laughter] so i said -- and i read it aloud to her. i said, see? she said, no, there's something wrong with that sentence. [laughter] i said just keep going, please.h well, she kept going, and i didn't do anything about that d sentence, and the book went to the publisher. the publisher published it, and it came out and got wonderful reviews including a very fine review in the new york review of books by gore vidal up until he was about to end the review.
he said sometimes, however, mr. mccullough doesn't write very well. [laughter]mr consider this sentence -- [laughter] [applause] >> so when you -- some historians do a lot of research and then they write. you perhaps do something different. you research and write, research and write. can you describe why you do it that way? y >> well, for one thing, i never undertake a book about a subject i know much about. if i knew all about it, i wouldn't want to write book because the research, theau process would not be an adventure. and for me, each subject i undertake is a new experience. i'm setting foot on a continent i've never been to before. working on a detective case. and i really don't know much about the research for the last half of the book, and i don't want to know that yet. i want to be involved with the people who are involved in the
story. i want to be with them. i want to know them. i want to be inside their time. people say to me, you're working on a new book. i say, yes, but i really say i't working in a book.g you have to get in that other time, and you have to understand those human beings. history is not about statistics and memorizing dates and boring quotations. history is about people, it's about human beings. when in the course of human events. and we have to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of those other people and know what the life that they lived was like, what the hardships, adversities that they faced that we don't even have to think about and what spoiled brats we are that we have so much that we owe all to them, and yet we don't bother to know who they were. it's not right. [applause]
and so i do the research as i go along. and as you do the research and as you learn more, then you have different questions. you have to ask questions all the time. why did this happen. where was he. who was he. what was he or she worriedhe or about. and you have to, you have to keep learning more from the original sources; letters, diaries, unpublished memoirs and the like. and, of course, that's where the gold is all, so much of it is right here in the library of congress. when i was working on the wright brothers' book, all thosebr letters that they wrote to each other and to their father and to their mother and sister, katherine, are all here in the library of congress. and you read those letters, these two young pell las who grew -- fellas who grew up in a house that had no running water,
no indoor plumbing, no central heat, no telephone, and itt was -- you could put ten of them in this room, tiny little house, but it was full of books. and their father insisted that they all read and that they read above their level. and those letters that they wrote express what he'd drummed into them, learn how to use the english language on paper and on your feet. their vocabulary, their handlini of -- it's breathtaking, and they never even finished high school. and when i see the writing that is produced by college students today, when i learn that -- [laughter] when i learn that nearly half of all the law schools in our country are now requiring incoming freshmen who, of course, are all college graduates to take a basic writing course because they can't write a respectable,
presentable letter or report or proposal of some kind in the work that they are going to have to be doing. we have to knuckle down and get back to learning how to write, learning how to read and with concentration and understanding and teaching history. and we're raising a generation -- really several generations -- of young americans, and i know this because i lecture or teach at colleges and universities constantly all over the country. we're raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate.pe and it's not their faults. faul. and i, i think that some of the brightest people i've ever met are some of the students that i am involved with in colleges and universities.so and we have to stimulate curiosity. ask questions. ask questions. don't think you always have to have the answer. i don't have all the answers.
i hope i never reach the point where i think i have all the answers. and curiosity, i've forgotten p who said this, and i wish isw could remember, one of the great writers said curiosity is what separates us from the cabbages. [laughter] >> so when you are writing, do you type it? do you use a typewriter or word processer? do you use longhand? >> you ready? [laughter] >> what is the answer? >> i am proud to say i work on a manual typewriter. [laughter] [applause] >> and when it breaks, where do you get the parts? >> it's never broken. [laughter] >> really?e >> i bought it secondhand in order to write my first book, the johnstown flood. i'd always worked at time and life with the issued typewriter on the job which was a manual royal typewriter. so i went, we were living inin white plains, new york.
i went to a typewriter shop and bought a secondhand royal typewriter that was then 25 years old. i paid $75 for it. i've written everything i've ever written, every speech, every article, every book on that typewriter for over 50 years, and there is nothing wrong with it, and there never has been. [laughter] >> wow. >> and talk about not -- by no means did the notion of planned obsolescence enter into the minds of the manufacturers of that machine. [laughter] it's fantastic. now, why this type writer? why not word processer? it goes too fast. [laughter] i don't think all that fast. [laughter] and if you hit the wrong button, you can eliminate months of work. i have a friend -- [laughter] bill fowler, very good
historian, very good book writer, lost 5,000 words because he hit the wrong button. also i love to take the paper out of the typewriter after i've finished a chapter, put it on a clipboard. if it's good weather, find a nice, comfortable place to take an outdoor chair and sit under a tree and let the editor me show that mug who wrote this stuff how it should really be done. [laughter] w and you're editing on the manuscript. now, with a machine, all that's eliminated. you never see that again. but with this you can see the process. now, the only other avid, devoted typewriter man that i know is tom hanks. and tom hanks writes all his letters, everything, on a typewriter. and he has what must be the world's greatest typewriter collection. more, i'm sure, than are at the
smithsonian. and he understands perfectly why i work on a typewriter. and i urge others to do it. and i urge, i urge others to remember how much work goes in to writing a book. >> i think robert caro still uses his typewriter as well. >> yes, he does. >> how many words do you do a day before you say, okay, that's it? >> well, in the old days when i was full of beans -- [laughter] i would do four pages a day when i was rolling, underway. now i try and do two pages ato day. two pages a day is ten pages a week or more because i often work seven days a week. and by the end of a month, you've got a chapter. or the beginningsings of a chapter. >> right. >> i'm often asked how much of my time i spend writing and how much of my time i spend doing research. perfectly good question.n. nobody's ever asked me how much of your time do you spend thinking.
>> how much of your time do you spend thinking? [laughter] >> yeah. there you are, david, first man. [laughter] >> all right so what's the answer? >> a lot. a lot. [laughter] now, if you were looking in thea window where i work, you might think the guy's asleep. t [laughter] but i'm thinking deeply. [laughter] >> so whenever you -- well, in one of my roles at the smithsonian, wherever you do retire, can you give us that typewriter? >> well, i'm not sure. i have to talk to the boss. >> okay, all right. [laughter] so let's talk about this book. >> yes. >> you have now, you've written ten books before, this is your 11th book. >> yes. >> we're going to talk about your 12th week which is called "the pioneers," out in 2019. >> yes. >> this book is a compilation of your speeches and honorary degree commencement talks. you've given -- you've gotten 55 honorary degrees. that must be near a world record. when you give a commencement speech, what do you have left to say?
do you get tired of saying the same things to these students? >> no, because the setting, like everyone you meet, is different. you want to know something about the university or the college where you're speaking or if you're invited to speak, let's say, at some event at the white house or capitol -- >> okay. >> -- you have to do the homework. >> so you do the research. >> i do a lot of research, and i am very conscientious that what i'm saying is going to go on the record at that university or at the -- >> right. so let's talk about some of these speeches. this is a highly readable book, i highly recommend it. let's talk about one of the first speeches in here. you were asked to give a speech to the joint session of congress. very few citizens, private citizens, are ever asked to do that. how did that come about, and what did you want to talk about to the members of congress? >> there was a gathering of historians and biographers that
spoke at a conference here at the library of congress on the congress. and after that was over when it came time for -- it was the biseven ten call -- bicentennial, 1989, i was asked to come and give a shorter version of the speech i gave at that gathering at the library of congress. >> shorter version because members of congress don't like long speeches or -- [laughter] >> i was, i imagine they were afraid that i'd get, run away with my excitement -- >> okay, all right. >> -- and go on forever. but it was a very, very high compliment, honor. >> i agree. >> and i worked extremely hard on preparing that speech. >> one of the people you talk wk about there was john quincy adams -- >> yes. >> -- who had been a member of t congress for 20 years after he left the presidency. why did you talk about him, and what do you think is so appealing about john quincy adams?
>> john quincy adams had been a diplomat, served in several diplomatic posts, very important diplomatic posts, he'd been a senator, and he'd been president of the united states. and after he left the presidency, he was asked if he'd, by any chance, run for congress. he said, certainly. so he went back and served in congress until his death. and he died on the floor of the congress, died in what's now statuary hall in a little room off to the side. he died in harness, they said then. and he didn't have to do that. he didn't have to be a congressman as he was, but he had a mission not only toav represent as best he could hisis constituency in massachusetts, but to represent the country. and more that than really the constituency. and he was ardently against slavery.
so he was battling slavery on the floor of the congress until the day he fell dead. or fell down and died a few days later. and talk about devotion, talk about integrity, talk about truth and honesty and loyalty. his father, john adams, was the only founding father president, the only one of the presidents who was a founding father, who never owned a slave. out of principle. and his wife, abigail, was evenl more adamant on the subject. the next president who never owned a slave was john quincy adams. so it ran in the family. as did dedication to public service. ran in the family. he's also brilliant. he was interested in everything. he spoke many languages.
he was, in many ways, i think he may have had the highest iq, the most fertile, versatile mind of anybody who's been president even including the greats among the founders.e but as chance would have it, he was only a one-term president, and one-term presidents don't get the attention that the others do. >> so let me -- >> same now as it was then. >> let me ask you about another president you've talked about. you spoke on the fourth of july at an immigration andhe naturalization ceremony at monticello which is held every fourth of july. monticello is thomas jefferson's home. thomas jefferson gave us the creed that all men are created equal that we wrote in the preamble to the declaration of independence, but how did you square that with the fact that he was a slave owner, and how did you address that issue, and how do you think that he addressed that issue, the fact that he was a slave owner but he thought all men -- >> i don't, i don't. i can't. i don't understand it, nor do i understand the fact that he
destroyed every letter he ever wrote to his life and every letter she ever wrote to him. so we know nothing about her. we don't even know what she looked like. and i can't understand that. i can't understand that he kept very close track of every cent, every dime, everything he ever spent on anything. incredible financial records. but he never added it up. [laughter] >> well, that was, that was why he probably was bankrupt at the end. >> he was never out of debt from the time he was a young man. and he just kept spending. i don't understand it. but i also don't understand where did that genius come from. the man was a genius. and if he'd been nothing but an architect, that alone wouldbe qualify him to be somebody we all should know about. be so and he, and he served a brilliant service to all of us with his idea that all men are
created equal, but he also said something i think that's not been sufficiently played out and given -- he hasn't been given sufficient credit for it. and that is his absolute belief in education. he said any nation that expects to be ignorant and free expects what never was and never can be. we have to be educated. we have to be literate. we have to understand that there are no easy answers to big problems and soforth. and nobody has glib solutions to big problems. they have to be worked out. i wish i'd had the chance to know him. i wish i'd had the chance to -- >> think about that. if all the people you'd written about -- john adams, harry truman, john quincy adams, thomas jefferson -- if you could have dinner with any one president who's not alive, who would you like to have dinner
with? >> john adams. >> john adams? >> because there are so many questions i want to ask him. >> all right.ns well, okay, let's talk about john adams for a moment. you gave a speech in, at the university of massachusetts. you talked a lot about john adams. of the founding fathers, he gets a little less attention than george washington, thomas jefferson, james madison. why do you think so few people paid that much attention until your book came out, and why do you think there is still no monument to john adams in washington, d.c.? >> yes, there is. >> where? >> it's on the mantlepiece in the white house. >> oh. >> did you know about that? >> i don't.i >> john adams was the first president to reside in the white house. and his first night he was alone, abigail had not arrived w yet, and the next morning after his first night he wrote her a letter in which he said -- well,
what he wrote in the letter franklin roosevelt had carved into the wooden part of the mantelpiece in the east room, the state dining room. when truman was in charge of redoing the white house, he made sure that that quotation stayed there. when kennedy became president, he had it carved into the marble of the mantelpiece so that it would stay forever. and what adams had said in the letter to abigail was this: may none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof. [applause] and i think it's very important, very important to understand, to think about he put honesty first. ahead of wisdom. honesty. [applause]
>> so in your, in your pulitzer prize-winning book on john adams, which was also made into an hbo series and won a lot of awards as well, you went through about a thousand letters between john adams and abigail adams. have you ever experienced nick like that between a husband -- anything like that between a husband and a wife before -- >> no. >> and what was it that struck you as so unusual? >> the quality of the use of the english language, how well-read they both were, superbly read. john adams add vised his son, his -- advised his young son at the time, about 10 years old when they went off with his father to europe to serve as a diplomat, he said you'll never be alone if you have a poet in your pocket. in other words, carry a book. and that was part of the relationship, attitude toward life.
they were incredible readers. and abigail was right there. and her letters are phenomenal. >> she was not college-educated. >> so -- no, she never went to college, never went to school, was tutored at home, as it were. but she never stopped reading. and she was brilliant and she was brave and patriotic, and she put up with incredible difficulties; running the families, running the household, trying to stay afloat financially when he was off serving overseas. and those children were raised by her in a way that they would never forget. that dinner party you were asking me who would i have, i would definitely want abigail adams there. [applause] and i would definitely, i would definitely want katherine wright, the sister of the wright brothers. you can't understand what they
did and how they did it if you don't understand the part played by katherine wright. and, oh, was she something. she kept at 'em and made them tow the line and behave themselves in a way that we all need. [laughter] >> now, you gave a speech at dartmouth, and there were two people featured in that speech about whom you've written.n. one was teddy roosevelt. you wrote a book not about his presidency, but about the time he left new york and the east and went west. why did you find that such an appealing part of his life, and what was the most important lesson you took away from that book? >> theodore roosevelt is like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. he was a child who was not expected to live.ld he was, he suffered terribly from these seizures of asthma which were really w life-threatening. he was afraid of everything,
fearful of everything, and he outgrew it, and he grout grew it by facing adversity -- he outgrew it by facing adversity. he took hold of his, himself, and he worked hard at it all the way through college but then on into life.e. his father's death was a devastating experience for him. then his wife and his mother died on the same day, and he was, he was shatteredded man. and that's when he went west. and this idea of going west is so american. it's a way of healing, it's a way of escaping. it has been traditionally, and many historians, obviously, have written and written quite profoundly about this. and he is the essence of that.
but he never forgot who he was i and where he was going back to. and when he comes back, he then remarries and gets involved in politics in a big and serious way. >> now, you also spoke -- >> he was brilliant. brilliant. >> well, he wrote -- >> and a wonderful writer. and he was an historian. none of our great presidents has ever been one who had no interest in history.id true. [applause] >> so he wrote about 40 books. >> theodore roosevelt wrote many books including a very good book, still i consider it a good book on the naval war of 1812 which he started when he was still in college. woodrow wilson, of course, was a professor of history. dwight eisenhower's crusade in europe is one of the best books about world war ii ever written, and he wrote every word of that himself. no ghost writer did anything to help him. and, of course, kennedy wrote several works of history, not
just profiles in courage, and kept referring to history, citing history, bringing history into the dialogue of the presidency, of the executive office again and again and again. >> so now you also, in the dartmouth speech, talked about harry truman. why was harry truman so unpopular when he left the presidency, 15% popularity wait rating, but now he's everybody's favorite president? what changed in the year he left the presidency, other than your book? [laughter] >> well, it began before i wrote the book, believe me. my, i grew up in a very old-fashioned republican family, and the night of the '4848 election i was a high school student, and i was very interested in politics, and i tried to stay awake to hear who won. but as some of you may know or remember, the final tally didn't come in until about two in the morning, and i just couldn't stay up that late.al fell asleep. and my father was in shaving the next morning, and i went in and
said, dad, dad, who won? he said is, truman. like the end of the world. [laughter]ater i well, 20, 0 years later -- 30 years later i was back home, and he started in on how the world was going to hell and the country was going to hell. [laughter] he paused and said too bad old harry isn't still in the white house. [laughter] but harry truman, harry truman is a great american story. this wonderful gathering here is about the american story. if there ever was a story that is so american, i don't know --e he's harry true man from a place called independence, and he never went to college. he had to go it on his own, and he had all kinds of bad luck and defeat, but he never gave up.
my favorite people are the people who don't give up. george washington in 1776 had every reason in the world to say, well, that's enough, we can't win this war, the hell with it. but he would not give up. and he knew how to convince others we're not going to give up. the wright brothers never gave up. washington robely and the building of the brooklyn bridge, they had many reasons to say, hell, this is more than can be achieved, but they won't give up. >> talk about never giving up, you gave a speech at ohio university -- >> yes. >> -- about people who helped build the northwest territories, and you're now working on a book called "the pioneers," as i mentioned earlier, be out in 2019. what was so unique about the northwest territories, and why did those people not give up? >> i was invited to speak at the ohio university at their 200th anniversary commencement, and i felt i better learn something
about ohio university. and i found out that the oldest building on campus was called cutler hall. and i thought, who's cutler? and it was the oldest -- i was told it was the oldest university college building west of the allegheny mountains. well, cutler's name was manessa cutler. he was a classic 18th century doctor, medical doctor, a lawyer and a minister. he was a minister of a small church in ips witch, massachusetts. and a group of veterans, war veterans in massachusetts, revolutionary war veterans, had the idea that because they'd been paid many worthless money -- in worthless money all the time that they served, eight and a half years in the revolution, one way to
compensate that would be to pride land in this new northwest territory ceded to our country by the british at the treaty in paris and that that land was fertile in a way that nobody in new england had ever even imagined. and it was, belonged to the government, and there it was. so this man, cutler, was picked by these officers from the war to go down to the capitol which was then in new york and sell them on the idea of creating a northwest territory ordnance whereby new states could bew stt formed. now, cutler had never lobbiedve anything in any way in his life. the word lobbyist or lobbying hadn't even entered the languages yet.ev he'd never been to new york, never been out of new england. but off he went in his one-horse
shay down to new york to convince the continental congress -- there was no constitution yet -- to go ahead with this. this was the summer of 1787. and they put the ordnance through.h. he did it, one man. he did it, and the ordnance stipulated three things of immense importance. it's one of the most important bills ever passed by our congress. even before we had a president. one, there would be complete freedom of religion, absolutely, complete freedom of religion. number two, the government would be involved in education. there would be public education all the way through college. hence, the beginning of the state university system, for example. and third and most important off all, there would be no slavery. now, what that meant was this territory was as big as all of the 13 colonies. there were slaves in every one of the 13 colonies.
but it meant this new empire, this wilderness empire, would be free to everyone. all you had to do was get across the ohio river.ross t the northwest territory north and west of the ohio river. it now constitutes the states of ohio, indiana, illinois, michigan and wisconsin. it's as big as all of france. no slavery. so half of our country would be no slavery. imagine, with one vote of congress, one man put it through. and yet i never knew anything about it, and most people know nothing about it. now, i go back again to thorton wilder. thorton wilder was once asked about how he got his ideas and so forth. i thought our town was one of the greatest things i ever saw on stage.
i still love to see it if it's being done again. and i've always wanted to write a book about people you neverwa heard of. to see if i can get you into the tent, as it were, without relying on historic celebrities. so none of the characters except one or two in the periphery of this new book are people you've ever heard of. but all their letters and diaries have survived, and they're in the archives at marietta college in marietta, ohio. and it was as if i'd come into king tut's tomb or something. [laughter] really and truly. oh, my goodness what they talk about and what they reveal and the adversities they faced, and they would not give up. >> so as we wind down the time we have available, two final questions. one, what is the great pleasure of your life today? if you look back on what you've achieved, is it exposing all these things to americans so they know more about our
history? what is it that has given youre the greatest pleasure in your life other than your relation with your wife and your children, what is the greatest professional pleasure of your life? >> being an american.leasure [applause] >> and when people talk about you, the legacy you would like to have left behind -- not that you're leaving anytime soon, but what would you say is the legacy you would be most proud ofvi trying to achieve? >> he tried to do his best. >> all right. well, you've done a terrific job -- [applause] a final thing about the library of congress. the library of congress is a place you've done a lot of your research. how important is the library of congress to you? >> the library of congress is indispensable for me professionally. but i also see it as a shrine on our acropolis devoted to the idea of education.
and it's available to all. our whole public library system is something that's a miracle of american creation. [applause] the library of congress is the greatest library in the world. no question. [applause] and we did it. we did it. and if you ever get down about american culture, you might like to remember that there are still more public libraries in this country than there are starbucks. [laughter] >> all right. well, david, thank you very much for a great conversation. >> thank you. >> appreciate it, thank you. >> thank you very, very much. thank you. [applause] thank you.
[inaudible conversations] >> and this is booktv's live coverage of the 17th annual national book festival. that was david mccullough, the pulitzer prize-winning historian. speaking a little bit later in the day, you'll have a chance to talk with him live.te he will be on our set here at the convention center. now, in just a minute we're going to go into the history and biography room here at the national book festival. you can see that we'll hear from sidney blumenthal whose most